The lines are becoming blurred as to England’s strongest white-ball team but it looks certain that Liam Livingstone will be part of their assault on the T20 World Cup later this year after an astonishing, record-breaking century against Pakistan last night.
Livingstone’s 103 from 43 balls was not enough to claim victory in the first Twenty20 international as England fell 32 runs short in their pursuit of 233 at Trent Bridge; Babar Azam had registered a typically classy 49-ball 85 as Pakistan made 232 for six batting first, before his bowlers held their nerve at the back end of match that produced 27 sixes.
The Lancashire all-rounder nevertheless delivered a telling message to Eoin Morgan on the day the World Cup groups were announced, first breaking the captain’s record for the fastest half-century in the format – requiring only 17 balls – and later launching Shadab Khan over the rope for the ninth time to secure England’s fastest century in any format.
This was just the 42nd delivery Livingstone had faced during a crazed night under lights, four quicker than Jos Buttler’s 46-ball ODI century against the same opposition in Dubai in 2015 and, in Twenty20 cricket, eclipsing the 48-ball hundred Dawid Malan plundered against New Zealand on a postage stamp at Napier in late 2019.
With 50 required off the final 22 deliveries and Livingstone’s bat positively glowing there was still hope of England pulling off their highest successful run chase. It was not to be, however, Shadab exacting his revenge the very next ball when the right-hander stuck one down the throat of Shaheen Shah Afridi at long on and was forced to trudge off the field.
From 183 for seven England subsided to 201 all out with four balls left and Pakistan had secured their first victory of the tour for a 1-0 series lead. Shadab, bowling a mixture of leg-spin and off-breaks, finished with three for 52, with Afridi picking up three for 30. On a day when all bowlers were clobbered, Mohammad Hasnain’s one for 28 from four overs was a triumph.
Pakistan were full value for the win after Morgan had won the toss and typically elected to chase. Their out-fielding was tigerish, while their highest Twenty20 total was built on a 150-run opening stand between Azam and Mohammad Rizwan (63 from 41 balls) that exposed an attack lacking the experience of Adil Rashid and Chris Jordan, both benched, and the penetration of the absent Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
It meant chances for Saqib Mahmood, Matt Parkinson and Lewis Gregory – all success stories from the reserve side’s 3-0 victory in the one-day internationals – but Azam carried through the form from Tuesday’s sparkling century at Edgbaston, slotting eight fours and three sixes to kickstart a vocal match for the army of green shirts in the sold-out ground.
Gregory and Livingstone shared fifth bowler duties – Moeen Ali once again failing to catch the captain’s eye – and it was the former who finally broke through with a slower ball. Rizwan had stepped on the gas, his half-century coming one quicker than Azam’s off 34 balls, only to cloth an uppercut to Jonny Bairstow behind the stumps.
It should have been two in two for Gregory, Bairstow grassing a simple edge off Sohaib Maqsood’s first ball. From there Maqsood delivered the first of three telling cameos, his nine-ball 19 followed by Fakhar Zaman (26 from eight) and Mohammad Hafeez (24 from 10); between them they cleared the rope eight times.
Amid the carnage David Willey claimed the prized scalp of Azam, the right-hander finally edging behind and England successfully reviewing. Tom Curran was statistically the pick with two strikes and 10 dot balls, while Mahmood came back well after back-to-back sixes from Zaman – the first swatted into the upper tier of the Radcliffe Road Stand – by snuffing out the left-hander in the final over.
By this stage Pakistan had secured their highest total in the format and though Jason Roy delivered a typical breakneck start to the chase, smashing 32 from 13 balls, and Livingstone went into overdrive from No 5 after arriving at 48 for three in the fifth over, the tourists repeatedly punched holes to thwart the chase.
It was harsh on Livingstone, who batted with such swagger and brute strength. At one stage he even won a used car for a lucky spectator by hitting a six into a target placed beyond the rope by one of the sponsors.
But consolation will come with the knowledge that when Morgan and Chris Silverwood, the head coach, sit down to pick their squad to face Australia, South Africa, West Indies and two qualifiers in the T20 World Cup group stage later this year, his name will surely feature.